Should You Quit School to Travel the World?

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About once a week, I get a question from someone via email that usually goes something like this:

I'm a [insert year] in college and even though I know school is important, all I want to do is travel the world. I haven't told my parents yet, because [insert reason here, usually having to do with the fact that they're afraid their parents won't support them]. Should I wait until I finish school, or should I just take the leap and go now?

These emails are always really difficult for me to answer.

On the one hand, I like to encourage people to follow their own dreams — not the dreams of their parents or teachers or overall culture, but their OWN. For that reason, you might assume that I would tell these college kids to “go for it!” Because, after all, life is short.

BUT. But. On the other hand, I think getting an education is really important.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Yes, travel in and of itself is a fantastic way to learn about yourself and the wider world. But, in today's day and age, a university education is seen as more “legitimate” — and therefore is equally (if not more) important, especially if you don't plan to be a nomad for the rest of your life.

Education quote

So I usually tell these question-askers that I think they should finish school. And here's why:

You will need a way to make money

As much as we all hate it, money makes the world go 'round. You'll need a way to fund your travels — and, chances are, if you want to travel for a long time, you'll need to find a way to make money WHILE you're traveling, too. (And no, starting a travel blog before your trip with the intention of making money from it right away is not really the best plan.)

If you finish your degree and perhaps work for a year or two, you'll be able to save up some money AND have a profession to fall back on later. If you want to get a degree that will help you find work on the road, consider a teaching degree with an ESL or TEFL certification so you can teach English abroad. Or learn some skills like web design, programming, or app development that could lead to remote work later.

You may discover you don't love traveling

I hate to break it to you, but the “permanent nomad” lifestyle isn't for everyone. Traveling IS awesome. But living out of a backpack and moving from place to place frequently gets tiring. After a while, you may find yourself longing for the comforts of home. It happens more often than you probably think — MANY long-term travelers start slowing down and/or living in one place for months at a time rather than being constantly on the road.

What happens if you drop out of school, leave for your epic trip, and then decide a month or two in that “being a traveler” isn't really the right profession for you after all?

You can go to school AND travel

It doesn't have to be an either-or situation. You can finish your degree AND still take some cool trips. As a student, you actually have great opportunities to travel — and the time to do it. Think about it: you get all summer off from school, usually a month around Christmas, and another week or so for spring break. That's A LOT of opportunity for travel.

And, while you're in school, there are usually tons of student discounts you can get. Check out STA Travel for all sorts of student travel deals, and get yourself an International Student ID Card — it will get you student discounts all over the world. Also, see if there are any groups/organizations on campus you can join that take trips abroad (for example, I joined marching band in college because they went on international performance tours — I went to Italy for a week and China for a week, and paid about $1000 total for each trip).

Great Wall
Here's me on the Great Wall of China with my college marching band!

So, instead of quitting school to travel, consider these alternatives instead:

Study abroad

One of the easiest ways for you to finish your degree AND travel is to study abroad. Many universities have “sister” schools abroad, or direct exchange programs that don't cost any more than a semester/year at your home school. Make a visit to your college's Study Abroad office to find out what kind of options you have.

Take a “gap year”

In many countries (like Australia, the UK, and many places in Europe), it's common to take a “gap year” — basically a year off in between school and getting a “real job.” We don't really value the gap year much in the U.S., but that doesn't mean you can't take one.

Planning for a gap year once you finish school is actually great — it gives you some time to save up money for said trip, AND it gives you a goal to work towards.

Teach abroad

I already mentioned it above, but if you want to work and live abroad, consider getting a teaching degree and then an ESL/TEFL license. You can then go teach somewhere exotic like Thailand or China or South Korea (all places that pay English teachers well and have a low cost of living) for a year or two, and travel as much as you can during your time off. Living and working abroad still introduces you to a new culture and gives you plenty of travel opportunities — you just don't have to worry as much about money.

So what's your take? Do you think quitting school to travel is a good idea?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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44 Comments on “Should You Quit School to Travel the World?

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  1. After high school I completed one year of university because that is what I thought I should be doing. I didn’t really enjoy it (or do well). I went to Europe for 2 months and ended up staying for 13 months with family and when I returned, I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to do. Yes, I did end up wasting a bit of money on that year but I am so much happier now in my current field. But I agree, if you are almost done your education that it makes sense to finish it!

      Glad that it worked out for you, Flora, and that taking some time to travel helped you focus on what you wanted to do! Definitely a success story there.

    Isn’t learning a kind of travel? So, quitting or not, walking or sitting at a desk, you are actually traveling!

      Definitely a good way to look at it! However while travel is definitely a kind of learning, I wouldn’t necessarily equate all learning with travel. I never enjoyed my statistic classes as much as exploring a new destination. 😉

    as much as I think school isn’t the only way to success, I agree with you. especially when you’re already in college and you (or your parents) can actually afford it, might as well finish it and have more options in life later.

      It never hurts to have options!

    I would not advise anyone to quit school to travel. Much as travel can be turned into a profession, it will only be very enjoyable if one is one goal(education) is completed. Moreover, school presents a lot of travel opportunities especially study abroad and school trips. If one is too much into traveling, they may as well enroll for a tourism and travel related course as they usually offer numerous travel opportunities

      That’s a good point, Solomon! I did my Master’s degree in hospitality/tourism, so when I asked if it was okay to go on a few trips that would cause me to miss class, my professors were perfectly fine with it.

    There is also a lot of opportunities to study remotely these days. Many education institutions offer online courses etc where all you need is a laptop and an internet connection.

      Yes, that’s also true, Aaron! I work remotely – you can certainly study remotely, too!

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